Whether you're Métis, First Nations or non-aboriginal, finding employment in a shrinking job market is even harder for people without a good education.

Friday's Canadian job numbers showed unemployment remained below seven per cent, but with total employment shrinking, those without a high school education — like 60 per cent of on-reserve aboriginal young adults  have even worse luck.  

As the AFN battles with the federal government over aboriginal education, there is some disturbing new evidence that a lack of proper qualifications is hitting the job prospects for young people of native heritage. 
Strangely enough the latest warning comes from the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business which recently published a survey of Métis and First Nations businesses called Promise and Prosperity.

Overall the news was good. The survey included telephone conversations with 300 Ontario  business owners who identified themselves as aboriginal entrepreneurs. The vast majority of businesses are small, with annual sales of less than $100,000, but they are strong and growing.

'We've been left out of the Canadian economy for a couple of hundred years'- J.P. Gladu, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
"They are achieving success in profitability and growth, but also in light of the personal goals they have set for themselves," says the report, funded by the Ontario government. "Three-quarters were confident they will still be running their businesses in five years time."

J.P. Gladu, president and chief executive of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, was heartened by the results of the survey. He says that many Canadians think of native people as a burden on taxpayers but reports like this help to demonstrate that aboriginal people are a source of economic growth.

 "We've been left out of the Canadian economy for a couple of hundred years," says Gladu. "We used to run the Canadian economy. We used to be the fur traders the economic powerhouse of this country."

Sarah Robertson presented the survey to a gathering of business people in the heart of Toronto's financial district. 

Creating jobs for youth

"These businesses are critical to developing healthy. prosperous aboriginal communities," Robertson told the assembled group. "And also for creating jobs for a growing population of young aboriginal job seekers."

But amongst the good news, Robertson revealed a troubling statistic.

"As they grow larger, the proportion of aboriginal employees actually declined," she said.

In other words, while small aboriginal businesses provided jobs for aboriginals, the bigger those businesses got, the fewer Métis and First Nations people they hired.     

John Richards, a professor at Simon Fraser University, says there's a direct relationship between low education levels and aboriginal poverty. It's a subject he has been studying since being a Saskatchewan NDP MLA.

"You'd have to be blind not to realize that aboriginal alienation, aboriginal poverty is the most important social problem in the prairies," says Richards.

He's not surprised that even aboriginal businesses don't hire aboriginal once those businesses become larger.

"As firms get bigger they have more specialized requirements. Bookkeeping skills, secretaries, work that requires a minimum of a high school qualifications," said Richards. "It's the low level of the education ladder but it's the key level in order to get job. Whether you're Métis, First Nations or non aboriginal." 

Education is key

Not only that, he says, if you don't have high school, "your chances of the being employed are well below 40 per cent."

The CCAB report, written before the latest dispute between the AFN and the Harper government over First Nations education funding, agrees that education is the key.

"One area where governments can make a significant contribution to aboriginal business is in developing programs and policies to help train and retain skilled aboriginal employees," says the report. "In addition to directly benefiting aboriginal businesses ... a skilled local labour source will also be of value to companies in the resource sector."

CCAB's Gladu, who has a university degree in forestry and an MBA, uses a business analogy of liabilities and assets.

"We need to pour more resources into developing the liabilities which include lower education rates, higher unemployment rates, lower skills," he says. "Once we start to put more resources into those issues, we'll start to see an increase in the asset column as they move over."